Allison Williams leaves ESPN.

Disney, ESPN’s parent company, is one of many large corporations requiring all employees to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, which has led to more than 722,000 deaths in the United States. As ESPN PR’s Mike Soltys shared in the first link there (an Aug. 2 Bristol Press piece on the Disney mandate, which was set to kick in this month), ESPN actually put in an earlier mandate of Aug. 1 for the people working live events for them. That included sideline reporters like Allison Williams.

Williams shared on Twitter last month that she wasn’t on the sidelines for ESPN’s college football coverage due to that mandate for live events staffers. With the wider corporate mandate now kicking in, unvaccinated employees have now had to make a further choice. Some, like Sage Steele, have grudgingly gotten a vaccine after previously bashing it. Others, like Williams, are choosing to leave the company instead. Williams revealed that decision in a five-minute video posted to her Instagram page Friday:

 

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A post shared by Allison Williams (@allisonw_espn)

A full transcription of Williams’ comments follows. End notes reflect unsourced statements Williams makes that do not align with current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on COVID-19 vaccines, with those guidelines based on peer-reviewed scientific research. Links to specific information on those claims are available after the transcription. For now, though, here’s a transcription of what Williams said:

“So I know I’ve been a bit mum since releasing the statement I put out a few months ago on my decision to not receive the COVID-19 vaccine. I just want to give everyone an update on my situation with ESPN. A great producer once told me ‘Don’t bury the lede.’ So I have been denied my request for accommodation by ESPN and the Walt Disney Company, and effective next week I will be separated from the company.”

“First of all, thank you, everyone, who reached out, texted, emailed, called, messaged me. I can’t tell you how much light it brought in a really dark and difficult time. And I’ve also had a lot of people and women in particular reach out and share their stories in regards to fertility and getting the injection. And to the women who got it and are having successful pregnancies and have babies in their arms, I am beyond thrilled for you. Congratulations; that’s amazing, and terrific, and I believe you. To the women who have reached out and shared their experiences of getting the injection and subsequent miscarriages and menstrual irregularities, periods after menopause, I am so sorry that that is your experience, and I pray for you, and I believe you.”

“Belief is a word I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, because in addition to the medical apprehensions regarding my desire to have another child in regards to receiving this injection¹, I am also so morally and ethically not aligned with this. And I’ve had to really dig deep and analyze my values and my morals, and ultimately I need to put them first. And the irony in all this is that a lot of these same values and morals that I hold dear are what made me a really good employee, what helped with the success that I’m able to have in my career.”

“And it wasn’t that long ago that those values were aligned with the Walt Disney Company. In April, they sent out an email to all cast members, as they call employees, saying that they believed the vaccine was the best way forward, but ultimately, it was a personal decision. Their values have clearly changed.”

“I understand that. I don’t know what it’s like to run a multimillion-dollar company and have shareholders and board members and financial quotas to answer to, not to mention societal and political pressure. So I respect that their values have changed. I had hoped that they would respect that mine did not.”

“Ultimately, I cannot put a paycheck over principle. And I will not sacrifice something that I believe and hold so strongly to maintain a career.”

“A lot of people have brought up the moral obligation receiving the vaccine is to being a good citizen. And I weighed that, and I thought about the implications. We all want to be good neighbors. We all want to end this pandemic. But ultimately, an injection that does not stop transmission and spread² for me, does not weigh in morally.”

“So I want to just say to that I know I’m not the only one walking away from a career they love, a profession that is a passion. And so many people that are in the same situation as me, serving society and benefiting this country in ways I could never do, they are nurses, they are teachers, they are doctors, they are police officers,  and first responders, and they are most importantly our military, and pilots. And they too are choosing to put their beliefs first. And I just want you all to know I stand with you.”

“But I also want people to know who support these mandates that I will fight for you. Because if this is the direction we take our country, there will come a time when the government or corporations mandate you to get something that does not align with your values. Power given is seldom returned. And when that day comes, I want you to at least know that we fought, and we tried.”

“I don’t know what the future holds, obviously, for any of us. I’m trying to wrap my head around the thought that the largest game I’ve worked in my career, the national championship game, might be the last game I work. But I’m going to focus on what I have to be thankful for. I’m going to hold on to my faith. I’m going to pray that things get better, and that I can see you on the television set in some capacity, in some stadium, covering some game soon. Until then, God bless, and I’m going to go hug my baby.”

Notes: 1: Williams discusses “medical apprehensions regarding my desire to have another child in regards to receiving this injection.” From the CDC:

  • COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future.

  • Evidence about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy has been growing. These data suggest that the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy.

  • There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems in women or men.

  • Pregnant and recently pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant people.

  • Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can protect you from severe illness from COVID-19.

2: Williams discusses “an injection that does not stop transmission and spread.” From a more general part of a CDC Delta variant page:

The COVID-19 vaccines approved or authorized in the United States are highly effective at preventing severe disease and death, including against the Delta variant. But they are not 100% effective, and some fully vaccinated people will become infected (called a breakthrough infection) and experience illness. For all people, the vaccine provides the best protection against serious illness and death.

Vaccines are playing a crucial role in limiting spread of the virus and minimizing severe disease. Although vaccines are highly effective, they are not perfect, and there will be vaccine breakthrough infections. Millions of Americans are vaccinated, and that number is growing. This means that even though the risk of breakthrough infections is low, there will be thousands of fully vaccinated people who become infected and able to infect others, especially with the surging spread of the Delta variant. Low vaccination coverage in many communities is driving the current rapid surge in cases involving the Delta variant, which also increases the chances that even more concerning variants could emerge.

Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community. High vaccination coverage will reduce spread of the virus and help prevent new variants from emerging. CDC recommends that everyone aged 12 years and older get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Beyond that, yes, of course, like most vaccines, the approved COVID-19 vaccines do not stop all transmission and spread. Fully-vaccinated people can still be infected (in a breakthrough case). And there is some research suggesting that infected fully-vaccinated people can still spread the disease as much as infected unvaccinated people, based on viral-load data; the CDC discussed this in July as part of a revision to their masking policies. But that does not override the effectiveness of vaccines; a fully-vaccinated person is less likely to have the disease transmitted to them in the first place, so they’re less likely to transmit it on to anyone else. And a fully-vaccinated person is less likely to get a severe case requiring hospitalization, which reduces strain on the healthcare system.

In the end, Williams can absolutely choose not to get vaccinated. But that’s a choice that’s in direct conflict with the Disney and ESPN vaccine policy, so her departure isn’t surprising. And as for her being in some stadium covering some game soon, current federal requirements are that all companies with more than 100 workers either require vaccinations or test unvaccinated employees for COVID-19 weekly. That would be much of the broadcasting world.

Companies can go beyond that weekly level of testing, too. For example, Fox Sports parent company 21st Century Fox (where 90-plus percent of the employees were vaccinated by September) tests unvaccinated employees daily. And there are many further requirements for people working at events, both from broadcasters and from teams or leagues. So it may not be easy to find an outlet that will let Williams do sideline reporting without getting vaccinated, or teams and leagues that will allow an unvaccinated sideline reporter on the field.

[Allison Williams on Instagram]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

3 thoughts on “Allison Williams is leaving ESPN over COVID-19 vaccine mandate, says “I am so morally and ethically not aligned with this.”

  1. I respect Ms. Williams for making a decision that aligns with her values without trying to provoke a reaction whether pro or positive. I also appreciate Bucholtz for pointing out a couple of instances in her statement that are more anecdotal than based on the evidence at this time. I don’t think Ms. Williams intended to convey those points as facts but wanted to share her perspective w/o bashing the CDC. Great post by Ms. Williams and great coverage by Bucholtz.

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  2. She is like soooooo morally and ethically not aligned, you know?

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